HC Deb 20 March 1985 vol 75 cc861-4
72. Mr. Maxton

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what reforms are currently under discussion within the European Economic Community.

73. Mr. Knox

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further proposals he intends to place before his European Community partners for the development of Community policies.

76. Mr. Rogers

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what are the current priorities of the European Economic Community.

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The Community's first priority is to reach decisions in the enlargement negotiations and on implementation of the Fontainebleau conclusions. A number of proposals for longer-term institutional change have been put forward in the Ad Hoc Committee on Institutions, which will report to the March European Council.

Mr. Maxton

In view of the 7 per cent. increase in the agriculture budget, in a Community budget in which agriculture now represents 74 per cent. of the total, and in view of the unwillingness of any of the EC countries to accept any cuts in agricultural prices, will the Foreign Secretary tell us what has happened about the reform of the common agricultural policy—or does he agree with his Conservative colleague, Mr. David Curry, a Member of the European Parliament, that we should forget about the reform of the CAP because it is impossible?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

That would be a curious and discouraging conclusion to reach, and I would certainly not reach it. One of the major purposes of the Fontainebleau agreement was to establish a framework which would secure a gradual reduction in the percentage of resources being devoted to the CAP. Since that time the process of reform has been moving steadily forward. The 1985 proposals put forward by the Commission show a determination to control costs. The wine reform regime agreed in Dublin has now been implemented. The agricultural structures agreement has been achieved at a level that is much lower than was originally expected. In all those ways the process of reform is taking place and will continue.

Mr. Knox

Will my right hon. and learned Friend impress on his colleagues at the Treasury that one of the main stumbling blocks to the development of the Community as an economic force is Britain's failure to join the exchange rate mechanism of the EMS?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I would not take the same view as my hon. Friend on that, not simply out of natural love and affection for my former colleagues at the Treasury, but because if the United Kingdom were to join the exchange rate mechanism of the European monetary system it would be important for us to do so in a fashion that would contribute to the increased stability of that organisation, and not the reverse.

Mr. Rogers

In the continual reassessment of priorities within the European Community, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind that in recent years the European Commission has said that tackling unemployment is to be its top priority? Will he press for alterations in the distribution of moneys within the budget, especially as about 5 per cent. of it goes to regional spending, 5 per cent. to social funding, but over 74 per cent. to agriculture? Will he do something about that?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

The hon. Gentleman underlines the importance of the agreement, which has been reached and is being implemented along the lines that I have just described, for the reduction in the share of agriculture spending as part of the Community budget. It is also important that the Community is able to support technological and other programmes that contribute to the advancement of employment. The Community and its member states must also apply themselves to the process of deregulating their economies to liberate opportunities for job creation and to take steps to establish a single internal market in the Community, because that would make a powerful contribution to the creation of jobs throughout Europe.

Mr. Dykes

Did my right hon. and learned Friend mean when answering my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, Moorlands (Mr. Knox) that the pound was too shaky for us to join the EMS? If the other members, on all the evidence, are reasonably keen for us to join, why can we not do so?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

A number of factors, with which my hon. Friend is familiar, must be taken into account. The objective of Government policy remains to join when the time is appropriate. It is important for us to be sure that the manner and timing of a decision to join the exchange rate mechanism is such as to contribute to the stability of the mechanism, and not the reverse.

Dr. Owen

The right hon. and learned Gentleman must be aware that a month ago we could have joined the EMS at a trade weighted index of 69.8, which has now risen to 74.5. Is he aware therefore, that we have lost a historic opportunity to enter and stabilise the currency at a competitive rate?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I do not agree with the right hon. Gentleman on the precision of that diagnosis. Other factors, apart from the relative parity at any one time, must be taken into account.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

Is it not far more urgent to reform the food aid programme, bearing in mind that figures published in the Official Report yesterday showed that the combined amount of food sent to Ethiopia and Sudan in the last 15 months was less than the amount that the Common Market sends to the Soviet Union and its allies every week? Is that not a shameful insult to the starving people of Ethiopia, bearing in mind that we have heard nothing but grand plans of what the Common Market could do but obviously is not doing?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

If the food programme were expanded to absorb all the food surpluses available throughout the Community, that would involve disposing of that food at a much lower price, if not at a zero price, and the cost of so doing would exceed substantially that of which my hon. Friend already complains. [Interruption.] The reality is that the food disposal programme produces some revenue from the disposal of some food. If my hon. Friend is complaining about the scale of that cost already, there must be some balance between the food that is disposed of on the market and the food that is disposed of by way of the substantial programme already sustained for Ethiopia.

Mr. Deakins

Why is the Foreign Secretary ready to agree to an extension of majority voting in the Council of Ministers? Would such an extension apply to interpretation by the council of the financial guideline for agriculture?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

There could be more majority voting within the Council of Ministers on the basis of articles of existing treaties. We believe that it would be appropriate to consider more frequent use of the existing powers for majority voting, while maintaining absolutely the right of member states to insist on the Luxembourg compromise being observed in respect of national interests. The price proposals made by the Commission on the agriculture guideline have been put forward within that guideline. Any change in those proposals would require unanimity within the Council.

Sir Peter Blaker

What progress is being made with the liberalisation of trade in invisibles? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure us that the Government continue to regard that as a high priority?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I agree with my right hon. Friend that one of the aspects of the internal market where we want to make early progress towards liberalisation is in respect of services, especially those that would earn us invisible exports. We have been trying to do that with insurance for some time. We intend to ensure that that is one part of the programme that the Community adopts for early comprehensive progress on the internal market.

Mr. Foulkes

Why is the Foreign Secretary right and Tory MEP David Curry, who is actively working within the Community, wrong when he said that we should stop pretending that we can reform the CAP or even the Budget? Will the Foreign Secretary confirm that his appointment of former MEP Adam Ferguson as the Minister of State's special adviser, at a salary in excess of £21,000, to liaise between the Foreign Office and the European Parliament is meant to try to stop honest men like Mr. Curry blurting out embarrassing truths?

Sir Geoffrey Howe

I have the utmost respect for Mr. Curry. I have heard his view in a single sentence uttered in the House this afternoon on two occasions. It is such a conclusively futile conclusion that I cannot believe that it represents the entirety of wisdom uttered by Mr. David Curry. It is of the utmost importance to continue reforming both the common agricultural policy and the budget.

Regarding the other part of the hon. Gentleman's question, the appointment of Mr. Adam Ferguson is a sensible and essential change to make to improve and extend contact with MEPs and the Community on other issues. Regarding the nature of his appointment, it is worth noticing that in 1984, the last year for which figures are available, the Government had only 18 special and personal advisers of this sort, whereas in 1978 and 1979 the Labour Government had 25 and 22 such advisers respectively. The Labour party would be better placed to make such criticisms if it ensured that its MEPs made a more constructive contribution to the European Parliament.

Mr. Teddy Taylor

May I beg leave to—

Mr. Speaker

No, not at this moment.

Mr. Taylor

Surely, Mr. Speaker, I am entitled to—

Mr. Speaker

Order. We often hear things in the Chamber that we do not like.

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